I love my electric car. Its acceleration is unmatched, has plenty of nifty features and the giant dash control makes for a mean infotainment system. However, I still have an old Suzuki that’s over 15 years old. It’s reliable and still offers a lot of mileage. But unlike modern cars, streaming audio from my phone to its stereo system is a pain. I needed to fix this issue since driving without music can make me pretty mad in bad traffic.
There are numerous ways to stream audio from your phone in old cars. You can use the AUX input, and cassette adapters, carry around a portable speaker or swap out the entire head unit in your old car. Some options are dirt cheap while others are expensive.
Let’s take a deeper dive and check out all the options.
AUX and Adapters
If your old car has an AUX input, you’re in luck. My old Suzuki has one and it saves me a lot of pain. You can simply plug in your phone to the car’s stereo with a regular AUX cable. However, with the state of modern phones, it’s easier said than done.
Since Apple removed the headphone jack back in 2016, the smartphone industry has moved in that general direction. A couple of years ago only flagship smartphones didn’t come with a headphone jack. But now, the familiar headphone jack is even missing from budget phones.
That’s why you need to resort to adapters. Something like a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter or a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. However, when you get one of those adapters you lose the option of charging your phone. If your smartphone supports wireless charging, you can have a car cigarette lighter wireless charger installed in the car. It plugs into the 12V socket of your car and the phone mount can be installed on the dash or on the AC vent.
If your phone doesn’t support wireless charging, it’s better to go with a Bluetooth to AUX adapter. This kind of adapter plugs into the AUX port and has a battery-powered Bluetooth receiver on the other end. The adapter receives an audio transmission from your phone via Bluetooth, converts it into an analog signal, and transmits it to your car stereo via the 3.5mm port. I personally use this adapter since it doesn’t require additional investment on a wireless charger.
On the other hand, it’s very inconvenient if you have to deal with proprietary jacks of different car brands. For instance, old Audi cars came with their proprietary port for their AMI stereo system while Volkswagen came up with its own port for its MDI system. In that case, you need to buy those proprietary adapters and they can cost a lot of money due to the licensing fees of Audi and VW.
Bluetooth Cassette adapter
Some people like to hold on to their old car for far too long. I know people in my circle who still maintain their 30-year-old cars in pristine condition. However, a few decades ago streaming music from your phone wasn’t a thing, and cars made for the middle class didn’t come with any sort of option for connecting phones.
However, all those old cars had one thing in common. They all came with a cassette deck. If you have one of those decks in your old car, you can add modern connectivity pretty easily. It allows you to improve your old car’s stereo connectivity within a budget.
If your phone has a headphone jack, you can buy a cassette to AUX adapter. If you want wireless connectivity, you can get a Bluetooth cassette adapter. These things are cheap and reliable. However, don’t expect amazing sound quality.
Magnetic cassette tapes never had good sound quality and when the analog or digital signal from your phone gets converted for that old medium, it’s not going to sound great either. However, it’s an option that lets you upgrade your car’s stereo connectivity for as much as a big lunch at Burger King.
When your car is too old, the speakers may be at the end of their life or may not have sounded that good in the first place. That means increasing its connectivity isn’t going to improve its sound. If you need to improve the sound the traditional way, you need to swap out the entire stereo system of your car and that can cost thousands of dollars.
Instead, you can go with a much more budget-friendly option by carrying around a portable speaker in your car. My wife prefers this option over the rest. A modern portable speaker may provide better sound than the crappy car stereo in your old car. My wife likes to carry her JBL Flip 6 in the car and stick it inside the cup holders at the front.
It’s very convenient since the speaker stays secure even on bumps. Since the speaker is already paired with my wife’s phone, all she needs to do is turn on the speaker and stick it in the cupholder. After that, the phone automatically connects to the speaker and music starts playing as soon as she hits the play button. You can do this with any speaker as long as it’s in a cylindrical shape and fits the cupholder.
However, since portable speakers are battery-powered, you’ll only get a few hours of music playback. You also need to carry it with you at all times in the car and that exposes it to theft. These problems can be fixed with a cigarette lighter car charger and by hiding the speaker in the glove box when you’re not using it.
Swap out the head unit
If your old car has a stereo system that still packs quite a punch and makes your hair go wild with its bass output, you can choose to increase its connectivity and features by swapping out the head unit. However, this is the most expensive option and will require spending in the three digits.
While these head units are more expensive than those adapters, they add a lot more value. Apart from adding Digital Radio and Bluetooth connectivity, these head units can also add Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with a large LCD touchscreen. You can even add a reverse camera with these head units and make parking your car a less stressful affair.
For just a few hundred dollars, you can add a lot of modern functionality to that old gas guzzler. However, if your car has a stock head unit that controls the AC or a proprietary fit head unit, swapping it out will require custom wiring and a lot of hassle that may drive up the cost. In that case, it’s best to stick to the other alternatives.
Cars are very personal and some old cars were made so well that they can last people for almost half a century. I cherish my old Suzuki and plan to drive it around for a few more years. You may have other reasons to hold on to your old car. Either way, one of the above-mentioned options should allow you to stream audio from your phone in your car easily.